Near‐source ground‐motion observations and kinematic source inversions suggest that the rupture process of the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku earthquake involved rupture reactivation, that is, repeated rupture nucleation in the same hypocentral area. This unusual phenomenon may have provided a second breath to the rupture that enhanced its final size. Here, we propose that rupture reactivation may have been governed by a slip‐weakening friction model with two sequential strength drops, the second one being activated at large slip. Such frictional behavior has been previously observed in laboratory experiments and attributed to pressurization of fault‐zone fluids by mineral decomposition reactions activated by shear heating, such as dehydration and decarbonation. Further evidence of this double‐slip‐weakening friction model is obtained here from the dynamic stress changes in the hypocentral region derived from a finite source inversion model. We incorporate this friction model in a dynamic rupture simulation comprising two main asperities constrained by source inversion models and several deep small asperities constrained by backprojection source imaging studies. Our simulation produces ground‐motion patterns along the Japanese coast consistent with observations and rupture patterns consistent with a kinematic source model featuring rupture reactivation. The deep small asperities serve as a bridge to connect the two main asperities, and the rupture reactivation mechanism is needed to reproduce the observed ground‐motion pattern. Therefore, we argue that rupture reactivation during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake is consistent with a second strength drop, possibly caused by activation of thermochemical weakening processes at large slip.

Online Material: Movie of simulated rupture and wave propagation and ground velocities recorded at the KiK‐net and K‐NET seismic networks.

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